Released on bail after being convicted of defaming religion, activist and blogger Alber Saber is speaking out to the media.
Marg Misdemeanor Court found Saber guilty of “contempt of religion” on 12 December after he was arrested in September for allegedly posting online parts of the amateur film “Innocence of Muslims” that had sparked protests around the Muslim world.
His arrest and conviction have sparked concerns among human rights advocates, who worry about an increase in trials limiting freedom of expression. Al-Masry Al-Youm sat down with Saber to hear his account of the accusation, the arrest and the political circumstances surrounding his case.
Al-Masry Al-Youm: What is the truth behind the charges of contempt of religion you faced?
Alber Saber: This goes way back. In 2008, I joined the April 6 Youth Movement and participated with them in several demonstrations against government corruption at the time, in addition to joining the Youth for Freedom and Justice Movement and [Mohamed] ElBaradei Youth Movement. That is why I was arrested on 26 January 2011.
I was then among those who met with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces when we were on a hunger strike to demand the prosecution of [former President Hosni] Mubarak and the dismissal of the prosecutor general.
On 25 January 2012, state security officers stormed my house in my absence, took my computer and conducted a search. From that moment on, security officers have wanted to get rid of people like me.
AMAY: Do you think that your political positions are behind your arrest?
AS: Unfortunately, since the referendum of March 2011, political life has been hit by religious radicalism, or mixing religion with politics. Religious groups publicized the idea that “yes” [to the 2011 Constitutional Declaration] was the way to heaven and [voting] “no” the way to hell.
In addition, I criticized the late Pope Shenouda III when he accepted holiday greetings from the SCAF on Easter. When we chanted, “Down with military rule,” the security of the church wanted to hand us to the military police.
AMAY: What about the videos of you discussing religion?
AS: I quit political work and began criticizing the situation of Egypt from the inside, especially after the widespread emergence of Islamist currents after the January revolution, and with the difficulty of convincing members of these groups not to mix religion with politics. I decided to make videos discussing the differences between religions, until the issue of the film ["Innocence of Muslims"] insulting the Prophet came up.
AMAY: Did you post the film insulting the Prophet on social networking sites?
AS: I did not do that because I believe in the freedom of opinion and belief. There is no evidence on my accounts on either Facebook or Twitter that I ever posted the film.
AMAY: Why did dozens gather at your home and demand your prosecution?
AS: Facebook pages published my photograph, my telephone number and address and accused me of posting the film insulting the Prophet.
In addition, a certain person, with the help of a computer store owner, displayed a video of me called “The Spokesperson of God,” in which I talk about preachers who speak in the name of God, and accuse those against them of blasphemy.
Neighborhood residents assembled outside my building after that person incited them. My mother tried to calm them down and explained my attitude to them so they went away. I admitted to them that I did not mean to offend anyone. However, I said I would delete it from the Internet.
AMAY: What happened on the night of your arrest?
AS: Religious extremists started turning people against me. Then on 12 September, the police came, searched my house, arrested me and took my computer, CDs, flash memory drive and cell phone.
AMAY: What happened during the interrogations?
AS: I explained all the details during the interrogations, starting from the allegations of the Facebook pages.
I was sentenced to three years in prison and had to pay bail of LE1,000, after the court refused to listen to any new witnesses or evidence to defend me against the accusations.
AMAY: How do you respond to allegations that you oppose religious freedoms?
AS: I believe in the freedom of anyone in embracing what they believe to represent them, but unfortunately there are no freedoms in Egypt. The proof is that after I temporarily left prison during the appeal proceedings, I could not go back to my home.
Even the article they used to charge me with contempt of religion has a constitutional flaw.
AMAY: Do you think that the community has not accepted your opinion because of the lack of freedom of opinion?
AS: I have not offended the community with any of my opinions, and my opinions are documented with references.
My father is an engineer and my mother is a doctor, and I was raised to respect others. I studied in the philosophy department [at university], which involves the study of all religions and the opinions of scientists and philosophers.
I then decided to study all religions and embrace the one that I was most convinced of. I had many arguments with the professors during religion discussion lectures, which led me to leave the Faculty of Arts and join the Faculty of Computing and Information.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm